The Tunnel Mountain Trail is an excellent hike of easy to medium difficulty that can be hiked from downtown Banff. Ascending all the way with a gentle grade, hiking this trail is a perfect activity for families or beginner hikers. Tunnel Mountain is Banff’s smallest mountain to summit with an elevation gain of about 300m, some moderate switchbacks lead up the mountain. At the Tunnel Mountain summit, there are two red Parks Canada chairs, that are great for a break and make nice photos sitting and looking at the great view.
Where does the name tunnel mountain come from? Tunnel Mountain has no tunnel, the Canadian Pacific Railway had plans to blast a tunnel through the mountain in the 1800s. The tunnel was never built, but the name stuck. The mountain is also known as ‘Sleeping Buffalo Mountain’ since that is what it resembles. Seen from a distance the mountain is shaped like a sleeping buffalo. From the summit of Tunnel Mountain, there are nice views of the surrounding Spray and Bow River valleys.
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Tunnel Mountain Hike Details
- Distance – Distance 4.8 km (2.8 miles) return hike from the trailhead.
- Walking time –The return hike takes 1.5 to 2 hours depending on fitness.
- Total ascent/descent – 270 meters (885 feet)
- Difficulty. Easy to Moderate.
- Trailhead. Tunnel Parking Lot
This is a fairly easy hike close to Banff town centre, suitable to do with kids. It is not a flat hike, but the trail has a gentle grade almost all the way. Remember you do climb a mountain with about a 300m elevation gain, so you will walk uphill! See our Guide to Easy Hikes in Banff National Park for a range of hiking trails that are not too difficult. Located in the Bow River Valley at the junction of the Bow River, the mountain is nearly surrounded by the town of Banff with nice views of the Hot Springs on Sulphur Mountain. This short hike in the Canadian Rockies will reward you with panoramic views of Banff. Walking to the top of the mountain and the Tunnel Mountain viewpoint early morning was one of the best things to do in Banff.
Getting to Tunnel Mountain Trailhead
There are three options to get to the Banff Tunnel Mountain hike trailhead from Banff centre; drive, take a public bus, or walk. The Tunnel Mountain Trailhead (Location Pin) is located on Tunnel Mountain Drive.
- Walk – The trailhead is very close to the center of downtown (1km) so you can easily start hiking in town.
- Drive – There are two parking areas at the trailhead, an upper and lower parking area, they are less than 5 minutes drive from Downtown Banff.
- Bus – Take the Roam Transit Route 2 bus from downtown to Tunnel Mountain.
Tunnel Mountain Drive by car is a good option for scenic views of the Banff Hoodoos by car and is a nice short drive. Tunnel Mountain Road provides a relatively short trip taking you over Tunnel Mountain. The road starts in Banff at the intersection of Banff Avenue and Buffalo Street, making a 5.5-mile loop back to Banff Avenue. Surprise Corner is a nice viewpoint of the spectacular Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the Spray Valley located just off Tunnel Mountain Road.
The Tunnel Mountain Trail Description
The Tunnel Mountain trail is a busy trail that is easy to follow and it is a relatively safe route to hike alone because there are so many other hikers. A variety of animals including; black bears, wolves, and cougars are sometimes seen on the mountain (rarely), so for safety it is recommended to carry bear spray and a bell and keep it somewhere where you have easy access.
The Tunnel Mountain trail is well marked and heads up the eastern slope of the mountain with moderate switchbacks all the way to the top of Tunnel Mountain. The trail starts in the forest but there are some nice views of the town from break in the trees on the trail. On the way enjoy views of the Banff Springs Hotel and Bow Valley. Closer to the summit there are some nice viewpoints with excellent views of Mount Rundle. From the summit, there are good views of the surrounding mountains including Sulphur Mountain and Cascade Mountain.
At the summit, there are 2 red chairs placed by Parks Canada, the Tunnel Mountain Red Chairs, this is a great spot with awesome views of the spray river valleys. 11 Red chairs were placed throughout the national parks, including the Banff red chairs as a way to get people to connect with their surroundings.
Enjoying the view from the Parks Canada Red Chairs at the summit of Tunnel Mountain. There are 11 sites with these chairs in Canada National Parks.
Best Time to Hike Tunnel Mountain
The Tunnel Mountain trail can be hiked all year round, but the best season for hiking is in summer, during this trail gets very busy. It is a great place for a sunrise hike. Hiking here in winter is very possible, but ice cleats are recommended when the trail can be frozen and very slippery. In winter months this is a nice trail to walk with snowshoes. Since this is a very popular trail I would recommend you start hiking early in the day to avoid heavy traffic.
Hiking in Banff National Park
Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park, with more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of well-marked and maintained hiking routes it is a dream location for hiking enthusiasts. See our guide to hiking in Banff National Park.
Most trails in the park are easily accessible from 2 different towns, both located inside the national park, the Town of Banff, and the village of Lake Louise 57 km apart by road. The Regional Service is a quick and cheap bus service that runs 5 times per day between Banff and Lake Louise for $6.
Banff Town is surrounded by plenty of easily accessible hikes of varying difficulty. Easy low-elevation strolls on boardwalks next to the river to more strenuous full-day hikes through beautiful alpine passes in the Rocky Mountains. There are plenty of easy hikes that start inside the town and you can also combine several trails. The Sulphur Mountain hiking trail is a popular 11 km hiking route around Banff town if you want a bit more of a challenge.
Prepare to Hike the Tunnel Mountain Trail
Banff National Park is located in Bear Country. For Tunnel Mountain Trail, the likelihood of a bear encounter, even in summer months, is low but impossible. It is safer to always carry bear spray to be able to protect yourself in case of a bear encounter.
A National Park Pass is required when entering a Canadian National Park. The towns of Banff & Lake Louise are located in the Banff National Park and a Park Permit is required. Entry and service fees help support visitor services and facilities. Buy a Park Permit Here.
Popular Tours in Banff National Park
- Banff Gondola Ride – round-trip gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Amazing views of six different mountain ranges, nearby rivers, and the surrounding area aboard a state-of-the-art gondola.
- Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway – Full-Day Tour – Round-trip travel from Banff with hotel pick up to some highlights that are far apart including Lake Louise, the Icefield Parkway,g Bow Falls, and Moraine Lake, guide, small-group tour—limited to 15 people.
- Bow River Ride on Horseback – Guided horseback riding adventure along the trails of the Bow River or the Spray River. Learn about the history of the national park from a nature guide
Packing to hike around Banff
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Ice crampons/cleats are important for walking on ice on cold days (when the snow freezes).
My Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch is a fantastic hiking tool; measuring speed, elevation, heart rate, mapping, and more.
Hiking in the snow, waterproof gaiters keep snow and mud out of your boots and keep your feet dry!
My Salomon X Ultra Prime gortex boots are great pair of boots, for all seasons. Keeps mud, snow, and rain out. Comfortable, light, and completely waterproof.
Ladies model, Alya loves her Ladies Salomon X Ultra boots.
BUFF Multifunctional Headwear – a good idea for sun and wind protection
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The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.